Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sita Sings the Blues.

Written, edited, directed, designed, animated and produced by Nina Paley, 'Sita Sings the Blues' will remain an absolute delight. It is the greatest, most exalted story ever told, the Ramayana. But no, it doesn't stop at being a mere retelling of the ancient epic.
The plot works in more or less four sub-plots, one dealing with scenes from an 18th century depiction of the Ramayana, one being the musical ('20s Blues) version of episodes from the Ramayana, one being a discoursive discussion of the salient points in the epic and lastly, the contemporary parallel. Even so, the film doesn't attempt to be a 'Modern Ramayana', thankfully.
The juxtaposition of all these four tracks together culminates into one of the most sharply edited and beautifully animated film in recent times. What an absolutely brilliant film, and what splendid animation!
What lies at the crux of the films's brilliance is the contextualisation of how the story moves right from the explosive (literally) starting credits to the noisy intermission to the happy rendition accompanying the end credits. You would think that the presence of a four plot structure would make the film end up being clumsily executed and confusing, but you'd think wrong. The film moves absolutely seamlessly, leaving you in awe of the filmmaker and her screenplay. Stunning, on all counts. Also, at all points, I was stuck by the dexterity of how the Blues (an amazing choice of genre) music corresponds, synchronises and adds to the age-old story.
The film raises pertinent questions about the legacy of Sita, Sita in Ayodhya B.C and the Sita that lives through the ages into contemporary life. The Sita whose entire lexicon corresponds with references to immense sacrifices that a woman "has to make". Nina Paley's groundbreaking film raises questions to the very identity of Sita. Why does Sita opt to sacrifice herself, to show she was a symbol of utmost chaste purity by being thrown into the fire by Ram? Why does Sita feel the need to glorify and worship the man who banished her to the forests simply because he wanted the support of all his allays? Is it merely coincidental that Sita finds maximum emancipation and freedom only after she makes the ultimate sacrifice, that of life, to prove yet again that she remained untarnished, untouched by worldly pleasure?
The contemporary parallel story is an example of how Sita and her estate transcended beyond cultures, beyond boundaries and through times. Nina and Dave, the American couple form part of this sub-plot. Dave leaves for India, and gradually distances himself from his distraught wife. She, like Sita, hangs on to the hope he will take her back. She sacrifices her dignity and her pride to get back with Dave, Dave who doesn't care. Unlike Sita though, Nina doesn't have to die to be happy, to be free.
Sita lives on through us. Who she really was, whether she did exist or not, we shall never know. But through Valmiki's Ramayana, Sita's story is one that has been told and re-told. 'Sita Sings the Blues' just attempts to analyse, to question and to glean that Sita does exist in the woman of today. The real question is, however, whether Sita was right in everything she did? Did she not come with her own issues? Is her constant praise of Rama and the willingness to prove herself to be moral result from unconditional love or is it merely an illusion of love?
It is important to remember why Sita is still worshipped and idolised. Is it an attempt to create male hegemony through constant repitition of Sita's unquestioning, dolice self as being the 'Good Woman'? Or is Sita widely misunderstood? Maybe she did choose death over Rama (evident from her appeal to Mother Earth to take her right in if she has never committed perjury) to ascertain herself, her rights and her sadness.
'Sita Sings the Blues' makes you look inside of you, think, and scrutinise the context in which 'Sita' lived and died and still somehow manages to live. A must-watch satire on mythology, on relatinships and, on Sita.

12 comments:

Surabhi said...

And I absolutely loved the soundtrack. Annette Hanshaw's old jazz songs were completely mesmerizing. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zcTgyGpens
And the way the puppets narrate the Ramayana!!! Excellent work.

Stuti said...

Surabhi, agree! Their comments, their discussion was actually the focal point of the film. It was a brilliant indicator of how an average urban educated person treats the Ramayana, through three differing viewpoints.
Oh and yes, the music was brilliant! "You must love being mean to me". The musical Sita is hot! :D
I love the way the credits come out too.

mariyam said...

it's very true as fr sita bein d idealistic worshippd goddess..i agree with u..she chose 2 remain quite than prove her devotion to lord ram!!impossible in 2day's context 2 believe & thus follow!!

Stuti said...

You know, Mariyam, I think I don't like that about Sita. The fact that she complied with everything Rama said, no questions asked. She glorified Rama, she constantly proved his might and even killed herself for him.
I am not sure I want to be Sita, ever.

Hippie Holly said...

Oh I must get my hands on this movie. I love the epics, though Mahabharat is my favorite- I think it's still relevant and the characters are deliciously layered and complex.. Ramayan, mostly due to Ram just doesn't do it for me. Sita too isn't the most likable or strong enough woman there is and I always felt a little annoyed with her. But a re-interpretation of a epic sounds great!

Stuti said...

Holly, oh yes! Ram for me will always remain an insecure and unjust man. Sita, on the other hand, I have bigger problems with. Why did she comply? That is it, that's my issue with her. Why could she not be assertive?
Also, 'Sita Sings the Blues' is so brilliantly made it makes me cry!

Harsh said...

You know what Stuti, I am very bad in these sort of things. And the worst part is I don't even know the whole sequence of what all has been written in them. Except some stories about Ram, Sita, Laxman about the exile and the reason behind celebrating DIWALI. So I have nothing to say.. :)

Aditi Sameer said...

Wow this sounds interesting ...
I will definitely get my hand on this movie.
Gr8 article.

Best wishes
-aditiart.blogspot.com

Stuti said...

Aditi, thank you so much! Means a lot. :)

unsungpsalm said...

I watched this almost a year ago... Was superbly brilliant...
Wrote about it here...
http://unsungpsalm.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/modern-lessons-in-mythology/

Stuti said...

USP, haha! Review films more often, is all I can say. :)

unsungpsalm said...

Ahh, I don't watch enough to review them :-(